A former architect client once asked me that, after their staking 2 new office mesquite trees failed, one attempt injuring the soft, young bark. “After all, no one prunes trees in the wild”, he followed.
Chaste Tree / Vitex agnus-castus* this 5/2015:
My account is too-common, and I’ve heard even more unrealistic ideas on pruning. Somehow, he didn’t question how nobody stakes trees in the wild, overwaters trees in the wild to watch them flop over or die, or cuts them down to replace with bamboo, japanese maples, lollipop trees, etc.
As usual, I restrained all I thought and did my best on a simple, educated answer; I’ve probably shared the same in past posts.
Flash forward 5+ years, new town and new office with better air conditioning. Our city street department replaced failed honeylocusts over a year ago, with something reliable and no drinking problem. My office landlord noticed the lack of care; I took 30 minutes to show how it can be done.
Notice it’s a low-breaking tree (this species and most desert trees are multi-trunked). It’s not a lollipop tree. The horticultural old guard really disagrees using the former, ignoring the basics of selection and pruning in favor of that 1960’s Des Moines look.
It will take more light, thoughtful pruning, but that’s easy and less necessary as it matures. I can already see a little more that might be removed when it cools down at the end of summer, filling in better than before.
Soon, that Chaste Tree will shade people walking under and near it.
Do you wonder why there’s so much bad pruning and maintenance, when most people want pretty plantings around them?
After 26 years, it’s mostly about the wrong people in the right places. Property owners with money demand such work, people doing maintenance but lacking horticultural / design training, and laziness / poor excuses from others. Such folks should be written off, but until then, we work around them. Plus, there’s plenty of copying bad work.
At least some do it right, even if they forget a tree or two.
*This tree is also called Monk’s Pepper Tree, or more often in New Mexico and Texas, Vitex. It’s in more landscapes than I can count in high desert towns, well-adapted and xeric but not native – it’s native to the Mediterranean region. And like some other well-adapted plants in the high desert, it can become invasive in arroyos or even nearby yards.
So, it’s best to not use Vitex near natural open space; it’s best to use them in the middle of town, just pulling out a few unwanted volunteers.